OCD and the fictional universe


In 2015's brilliant Mad Max Fury Road, the post-apocalyptic dictator Immortan Joe rules over the wasteland through the spurious quasi-religion of the 'Cult of the V8'. His authority is based on the myth of his immortality (hence the moniker 'Immortan') as well as control of the only source of drinkable water. Mythology is the basis for this very twisted future society in which 'milkers' provide 'Mother's milk' for the chosen few and 'breeders' are kept as slaves to provide healthy offspring for Immortan Joe.

The movie shows us a patriarchal society in which machines are venerated and women treated as property. The Mad Max movies exist in their own universe (the latest instalment, Furiosa will be released next year), and are not intended to be social commentaries on existing societies or ideologies. However, Fury Road took over thirty years to come to fruition and in that time director George Miller and his team created a world far more fleshed out and detailed than is usually found in an action movie. As someone who has loved the Mad Max movies since I was a child, and as someone who loves nothing more than immersing myself in a brilliantly detailed and realised fictional universe, the world of Fury Road really resonated with me. I'm going to look here at how a fictional world can be seen in relation to OCD and OCD treatment.  

Just as Immortan Joe spreads lies on a grand scale to maintain his position of power, so OCD lies to those who have the condition in all kinds of ways. It may tell us that our loved ones will die if we don't perform a particular ritual, or that thinking something 'sinful' is the same as doing that thing. In my case, OCD lies to me and tells me that I have raped and/or murdered people. Before I started CBT therapy for OCD, I gave great credence to these thoughts. My response to them was that they must be telling me something significant about myself. Like the War Boys in Fury Road who believe that a glorious afterlife awaits them in Valhalla if they die in the service of their great dictator, there is no amount of rumination or wasted time or misery that will ever satisfy the OCD thoughts and free us from their grip.

Immortan Joe's lies demand service and subservience from his followers. They promise a heavenly reward for a certain type of life and a certain type of sacrificial death. The War Boys want to 'die historic on the Fury Road' in service to their great leader. Immortan Joe is using ignorance and fear to play a large-scale con-trick on the member of this "society". OCD makes promises in the same way that Immortan Joe does. It promises us the reward of peace of mind and freedom from intrusive thoughts if we only engage in the compulsions it tells us to. Unfortunately, the reward promised by OCD is as unreachable and unreal as that promised by Immortan Joe. 

All fatuous and malevolent systems of belief require unquestioning acceptance of untruths. Just look at Trump and the MAGA cult in the USA. A lot of people in today's America seem willing to accept and endorse statements and conspiracy theories that at least a fair proportion of them must know are not true. Trump and his allies will also of course say things that they know to be untrue in order to maintain control of their base. Immortan Joe tells the people who worship him as an all-powerful deity, 'Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.' Classic movie dictator rhetoric, yes? But any more far-fetched than Trump continuing to insist that an election he lost, and knows he lost, three years ago was rigged in favour of his opponent? Not really.

I suppose my point is that wilful lies are at the heart of so much that is troublesome to the human soul and mind. In the case of OCD, it's only when we place our faith in the fact that the intrusive thoughts are indeed lies that we can begin to focus on what we can control - our responses to the thoughts. I read an interesting Instagram post today about how OCD would not be troubling to us if it didn't target our values. OCD has to lie, and lie big, like Trump and like Immortan Joe, in order to get the response from people that it wants. OCD wouldn't get our attention with small lies or lies that didn't attack our values and use them against us. 

The poor people at the base of The Citadel in Fury Road know that what Immortan Joe is telling them is a lie, and that they need far more water than they are getting in order to live for any length of time. They talk themselves into believing his lies because it probably makes it easier to endure their unendurable circumstances. They most likely also know deep down in their hearts and minds that Immortan Joe is not immortal. But once again it's easier to believe that he is for the same reason as already mentioned.

As people with OCD, we can become trapped into believing that we must somehow appease or reason away the intrusive thoughts. I have been in the position many times where I've believed that if I can just get rid of this latest intrusive thought, I'll be okay. It is here that OCD has us exactly where it wants us, giving all of our energy and attention to the intrusive thoughts and treating them as if they are telling us something important about ourselves.  

Immortan Joe, for all his myriad faults, has the enormous advantage over Trump of being a fictional character in a fictional universe. Every fictional universe is a benevolent lie that is designed to entertain readers and viewers. Fictional universes transport us and enrich us; they allow us to see our own reality through a different lens. The lies of OCD do not enrich or enlighten or tell us anything about ourselves. They are the basest form of lies - like those of Trump and co - that are designed to monopolise our attention, destroy our relationships, and make us incapable of thinking about anything else. There is nothing to be gained by engaging with the details of OCD lies. Knowing they are lies in our hearts and our minds is enough. As with the lies of Immortan Joe and Donald Trump, so with the lies of OCD.


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